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Early Formative

Nunez, 1992

Legend: C = cave; Ce = cemetery; AEC = site with architecture; CPL = site at paleolake; CAE = open site with structures; SCA = open hunting site.

Puna (Altiplano between 4000 and 4500 m). The hunters exploited modern fauna (camelids, cervids, birds, and rodents) and used a typical triangular artifact, which is found on paleo-shorelines in numerous lake basins on the Altiplano (Fig. 4). Radiocarbon dates from seven early Archaic sites, of which Tuina, San Lorenzo, and Tambillo are the most important, suggest initial human occupation at 10,800 14C B.P. and a rapid termination of this occupational phase at ca. 8000 14C B.P. (Fig. 5). At the time of human arrival, the paleo-lakes in northern Chile were close to or already at their maximum extent (between 10,800 and <9200 14C B.P.; Geyh et al., 1998, 1999). Precipitation rates were 2.5-3 times higher than they are today (annual rates >500 mm compared with modern <200 mm; Grosjean, 1994) and provided abundant water resources for vegetation, animals, and ultimately, humans. New radiocarbon dates of open campsites that are related to shorelines of Altiplano paleolakes range between 8700 and 8200 14C

B.P. (Núñez et al., unpublished data), suggesting that paleolakes were still high at that time. Thus, the link between initial human occupation and favorable environmental conditions as recorded in paleolake sediments, fossil groundwater bodies, and paleosols is evident (Lynch and Stevenson, 1992; Messerli et al., 1993; Grosjean and Núñez, 1994; Grosjean et al., 1995). Further strength to this interpretation is added by the process of how this first occupational phase came to an end. Lake sediment records from the Altiplano suggest that the paleolakes disappeared very rapidly at ca. 8000 14C B.P. (Grosjean et al., 1995; Geyh et al., 1999), and extremely arid conditions were established from then onwards. The severe decrease in resources in the Atacama Desert at that time is reflected in a synchronous drastic depopulation of the area (Silencio Arqueológico; Núñez and Santoro, 1988), suggesting that the favorable humid early Holocene environment was the precondition for early hunting and gathering societies in this area.

FIGURE 4 The Salar Tuyajto shows a typical situation for Early Archaic sites in the Puna de Atacama. The Early Archaic fireplaces (Figs. 4b and 4c) are associated with the early Holocene shorelines of the paleolakes (in this basin 25 m above the modern lake level, Fig. 4a) and usually are far away from the places with water resources under current climatic conditions.

FIGURE 4 The Salar Tuyajto shows a typical situation for Early Archaic sites in the Puna de Atacama. The Early Archaic fireplaces (Figs. 4b and 4c) are associated with the early Holocene shorelines of the paleolakes (in this basin 25 m above the modern lake level, Fig. 4a) and usually are far away from the places with water resources under current climatic conditions.

However, the environmental influence over the beginning of human occupation in the Atacama Desert remains debatable. Although megafauna dated to late glacial times existed in the south-central Andes (e.g., Fernandez et al., 1991), a site unequivocally linking hunters and Pleistocene animals in the Atacama Desert has yet to be discovered. At Barro Negro (northwestern Argentina; Fernandez et al., 1991), for instance, evidence of Archaic camelid hunters is found precisely at the time when Equus sp. became extinct. Nevertheless, the possibility of Paleo-Indian hunters still exists. For the Chilean part of the Altiplano, we argue that the onset of favorable environmental conditions and initial human occupation was, considering the statistically poor dating control of the first human arrival, broadly synchronous. At that time, the Pleistocene megafauna was possibly already extinct, whereas the modern camelids survived and served as the resource basis for the Early Archaic hunters. The picture drawn for the Puna de At-

acama looks somewhat different from the circum-Titi-caca area in Bolivia. In the latter case, paleolakes and most favorable conditions were reported for the time between 15,400 and 11,000 14C B.P. (Servant et al., 1995; Sylvestre et al., 1996, 1999), that is long before the first people arrived. Thus, the question remains open of whether environmental conditions or the generally late, but extremely rapid, population of the South American continent (at about 12,500 14C B.P.) controlled the timing of the first human arrival in the south-central Andean area.

Indeed, this example from the Atacama Desert shows that the first humans arrived in an environment that was undergoing major changes. However, the changes were directed toward better resources and more favorable environments where hunters and animals coe-volved. This is very different from the Paleo-Indian case in central Chile, where the humans intruded into a system that was changing toward unfavorable environ

FIGURE 5 Comparison between lake level changes and human occupation in the Puna de Atacama, northern Chile. The Early Archaic period coincided with high paleolake levels, whereas the extremely arid mid-Holocene (low lake levels) resulted in a hiatus of human occupation. Reoccupation (Tilocalar phase) was synchronous with a rise of the lake levels to modern conditions.

FIGURE 5 Comparison between lake level changes and human occupation in the Puna de Atacama, northern Chile. The Early Archaic period coincided with high paleolake levels, whereas the extremely arid mid-Holocene (low lake levels) resulted in a hiatus of human occupation. Reoccupation (Tilocalar phase) was synchronous with a rise of the lake levels to modern conditions.

mental conditions, and hunters acted possibly as the final blow toward extinction of their own resources.

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